The Environmental Protection Agency is hoping to protect a vital marine habitat by declaring the state waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary a No-Discharge Zone. What this means is that effective June 19, 2002, all sewage, including that which has been chemically, biologically or mechanically treated, may not be discharged in the area.
Treated sewage, though free of harmful microbial organisms, is still very rich in nutrients and poses a threat to the delicate ecological balance of the protected area. Prior to this designation, the discharge of untreated sewage was not permitted; however, the discharge of treated sewage from Type I and Type II marine sanitation systems was allowed. The new regulations do not require owners to refit their vessels with holding tanks, but must ensure that their Type I and Type II systems cannot discharge while in state waters of the sanctuary.
The sanctuary, designated in 1990, protects 2,896 square nautical miles and stretches from Biscayne Bay to the Tortugas.